Inquiry into mass graves blocked
UN team harassed at Ivory Coast site
ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — Reports of dozens of bodies being dumped near a large forest first emerged as human rights groups warned that security forces loyal to incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo were abducting political opponents after the disputed election.
Now the United Nations believes that up to 80 bodies may have been moved to a building nestled among shacks in a pro-Gbagbo neighborhood. Investigators have tried to go there several times, and even made it as far as the building’s front door before truckloads of men with guns showed up and forced them to leave.
Simon Munzu, the head of the United Nations human rights division, urged security forces yesterday to allow investigators inside. Gbagbo’s government has repeatedly denied the existence of mass graves after violence over the disputed presidential runoff that has left at least 173 confirmed dead already.
“We would be the very first to say that these stories are false if they turn out to be false,’’ Munzu said. “Our findings on the matter and their announcement to the world would have a greater chance of being believed than these repeated denials.’’
Human rights groups accuse Gbagbo’s security forces of abducting and torturing political opponents since the disputed Nov. 28 vote, which the UN said Gbagbo lost. UN investigators have cited dozens of reported cases of disappearances, and nearly 500 arrests and detentions.
Human Rights Watch said earlier this month that witnesses had described nightly raids in which people were dragged away in official vehicles to undisclosed locations.
The United Nations has said that security forces accompanied by masked men with rocket launchers also had prevented UN personnel from reaching the building. Munzu said witnesses have said that between 60 and 80 bodies are believed to be inside.
A second mass burial site is believed to be near Gagnoa in the interior of the country, the UN said. Those suspected victims are in addition to the 173 deaths already confirmed by the UN.
The reports of mass graves raise new concerns about human rights abuses as Ivory Coast’s neighbors discuss how to remove Gbagbo from power.